The game of leadership has changed. Today’s leaders need to be adaptable and responsive and must constantly develop their skills, and organisations must access 100% of the talent pool to find the best fit for each leadership position.

How well are we doing now?

Effective leadership is critical for an organisation’s success. Market analysts value effective leadership by awarding a ‘leadership premium’ of up to 15.7% of company share price for good leadership, and a discount of 19.8% for ineffective leadership.

Despite the importance of leadership capability on the bottom line, 50% of HR executives say their leadership development programs are ineffective or don’t provide significant lasting benefits. In fact, 86% of HR and business leaders surveyed by Deloitte, cited leadership as one of their most important challenges.

Leadership development needs an overhaul. Companies are struggling to develop their leadership capabilities, and a number of women are not given the chance to put their leadership skills to use. Only 21% of directors on ASX 200 boards are women, and there are still 29 boards in the ASX 200 with no women at all.

Developing female leaders is an inside job

There is a solution to the challenge of effective leadership development, which also supports developing women in leadership.

1. Insource don’t outsource

Traditional leadership development programs no longer deliver the return on investment we need. The typical organisation invests 85% of its leadership development resources in training events, yet these events only contribute 24% of learning effectiveness. Organisations only invest 5% of their time in training follow-up, even though follow up contributes 50% of learning effectiveness.

This approach is failing men and women. Fostering leadership in others is a major role of a leader, and it’s time we stopped ‘outsourcing’ the development of our female leaders to HR or an external program.

2. Provide regular feedback

Can you imagine a basketball coach providing feedback to her team once a year, at the end of the season? Athletes grow and develop through regular, real-time, on the job feedback; they don’t rely on a twice-yearly formal performance review conversation.

Provide direct feedback when it’s needed to the build awareness and skill that will lead to confidence and courage. The most effective feedback is open, honest, and supportive, and focuses on the intention that drives the behavior, rather than the behavior itself.

3. Tailored conversations and development solutions

Individualised conversations—taking into account the organisational context as well as personal career aspirations—provide a supportive environment for personalised leadership development solutions.

Too frequently women say: ‘I would not have applied for this role, but my mentor tapped me on the shoulder and insisted. I argued that I didn’t have everything this role needed. My mentor laughed and persisted’.

Women hesitate to step forward, and regular development conversations can assist. A study by Hewlett-Packard found that men applied for a promotion when they thought they could meet 60% of the qualifications listed for the job. Women only applied when they believed they met 100% of the job requirements.

Women are also reluctant to put themselves forward against their peers. One-on-one development conversations provide the environment where women feel encouraged and supported to act on their potential and put themselves forward.

Ask open questions, listen, look out for opportunities, and work with women to develop their careers.

Over to you

While it remains easier for women to exit the system rather than grow within it, women’s choices remain limited, and the strength and future of our businesses and public institutions are constrained.

Whether you are a senior female leader supporting the development of others, or a woman aspiring to leadership roles, you have a part to play in changing the leadership landscape. Developing strong female leaders is an inside job.


Corrinne Armour is a leadership speaker, trainer and coach who helps leaders and teams get out of their own way and achieve their objectives. She is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders.


First published in Women’s Agenda on 03 November 2015.


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